Farmers prepare for next avian influenza outbreak

Fraser Valley farms affected by winter bird flu outbreak to receive government compensation

Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas speaks Friday during an announcement of compensation for farmers affected by the avian influenza outbreak.

Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas speaks Friday during an announcement of compensation for farmers affected by the avian influenza outbreak.

As the poultry industry works to protect itself from future avian influenza outbreaks, officials shed new light Friday on the source of a bird flu outbreak that led to the deaths of more than 200,000 birds last winter.

Speaking Friday during an event to announce funding for poultry farmers affected by the avian influenza outbreak, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture chief veterinarian officer Dr. Jane Pritchard said the virus was likely the product of two different influenza strains combining in the wild and changing into a new and more virulent disease.

Pritchard said Ministry of Agriculture staff recently discovered that a falcon killed by a B.C. hunter over the winter was infected with an Eurasian H5N8 version of avian influenza.

The discovery backed officials’ belief that the H5N2 strain found on 13 B.C. farms was the descendent of a H5N8 avian flu version that first appeared last January in Korea and later spread to Europe.

Here in North America, that virus likely mingled with a low-pathogenic H5N2 strain found in the wild before infecting local farms, Pritchard said.

In Canada, the outbreak was contained to farms in Aldergrove, Chilliwack and Abbotsford, and quarantines have been lifted at all affected farms. But since its discovery in B.C., the virus has since swept south through the United States, causing the deaths of more than 25 million birds. That makes the outbreak the most damaging avian flu outbreak in American history.

On Friday, federal and provincial politicians were in Abbotsford to announce $1.25 million in funding for a program that will pay operators of infected farms up to 90 per cent of the costs associated with the outbreak.

The federal and provincial governments will also provide up to $325,025 to the BC Poultry Association to help establish insurance to protect farmers from the financial costs of future outbreaks.

The industry has been working on creating avian influenza insurance for years, and Abbotsford farmer Garnet Etsell said work was 75 to 95 per cent complete when the outbreak hit in late November.

“It’s going to really help the industry move forward in future events,” he said. “It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.”